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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2000

Bishop's Organizes Contract Staff

After a ten-day organizing campaign, the Association of Professors of Bishop's University has applied for certification of a new bargaining unit for contract academic staff.

According to organizing campaign leader Thomas Hood, the drive was initiated by a group of part-time instructors who have long been frustrated with the low wages, job insecurity, and lack of resources for people teaching on contract at Bishop's.

"We were very frustrated when negotiations in the fall between the administration and the regular faculty produced no significant improvements for the contract staff," said Hood, a part-time instructor in philosophy. "It became clear that there would be no improvement in our situation unless we organized."

Hood said they looked at several different ways of organizing, but were pleased when the regular faculty members decided on their own initiative to invite contract staff to join them in the APBU, which "was our first preference."

At a February meeting of the association, the full-time faculty members voted overwhelmingly to offer membership to all academic staff who provide instruction. Encouraged by this demonstration of solidarity from their full-time colleagues, the group began contacting potential members to urge them to sign membership cards.

Ten days later, the organizers had signed up 85 per cent of the bargaining unit, which includes part-time instructors, tutors in the English writing program, and music instructors. Organizers anticipate an additional 5 per cent will sign cards while the certification application is being processed.

APBU president Loretta Czernis said the new membership can help to reinvigorate the APBU. "It is an exciting time for us."

She said the contract academic staff will need to develop a union identity. "They are a newly-formed bargaining unit but many of them have never met. They need to focus on a common future as a collective around the aims and principles that the APBU has defended over the past 26 years. These include rights to intellectual freedom, a strong voice in university governance and fair wages and benefits."

The association is now awaiting the results of its application for certification. Anticipating a successful result, the union is surveying the new members about their priorities for first contract negotiations, which will take place at the same time as the full-time faculty and librarians' contract talks.

Both full-time and contract academic staffs are confident that presenting a united front will help both units achieve success at the bargaining table.

"My advice to other part-time instructors in Canada is to take the bull by the horns and organize now," said Hood. "The difference between the treatment of contract faculty and that of the regular faculty has reached absurd and scandalous proportions.

"Our experience shows that under the right circumstances, and with the help of CAUT, the task of organizing can be accomplished very quickly."

Hood said a lot of work lies ahead, but he has no doubt that "we will be able to improve our working conditions at the university."